Bringing comfort to the community: the Thuthuzela/ TAC story

Bringing comfort to the community: the Thuthuzela/ TAC story

‘When I talk about civil society, I am talking about the TAC; they know the people, they are able to reach the people, and they know what will work for the Khayelitsha community and what won’t.’

‘Thuthuzela’ means to comfort. This is the first thing Genine Josias the medical coordinator at the Thuthuzela Care Centre says. The centre is many things, but first and foremost it is a place of comfort for victims of sexual abuse.

The centre is housed in a wing at the new Khayelitsha Day Hospital. Just two years old, Thuthuzela followed a similar path to the Simelela Rape Survivors Centre, which offered a one-stop facility that changed the lives of victims of sexual abuse in Khayelitsha.

Years ago, Khayelitsha was marked by high incidents of rape and sexual abuse cases. At the time, there was very little support for victims; all they could do was report the case and hope it would be followed through. But this was a harrowing process for someone who had just been violated and Genine Josias, a medical doctor, decided something had to be done. Working hand-in-hand with the TAC, Simelela was born.

At Simelela, victims of abuse received emotional support, medical assistance, and legal guidance – a place, finally, people could turn to in their time of need.

But, unknown to Dr Josias, the government had started a similar programme called Thuthuzela. ‘It was the exact same thing we were doing at Simelela,’ she says. Initially Simelela and the government did not have a good relationship – it looked as if Simelela was taking over their initiatives. It took time for both parties to come to an agreeable working relationship but, after much consultation, Simelela was taken up as a formal Thuthuzela centre.

For Dr Josias this change had both positive and negative implications: the funding and facilities would make a huge difference to the work that they do, allowing them to reach a greater number of people, but closing Simelela meant losing a lot of people who had come to seek help at the centre. ‘Without the TAC, we would never have made it,’ says Dr Josias.

Dr Josias believes that the TAC’s strength is its ability to educate people in a relatable and dignified way and plays a vital role in informing people about the services available to the community. Its large network means that important information trickles down to every school, household and community centre. ‘If it wasn’t for the TAC, people wouldn’t know about these services,’ says Dr Josias.

Although Thuthuzela is funded by the government, the funds are always focused on providing services, rather than marketing. People who work in the centres don’t have the time to reach out to communities and that is the gap the TAC fills.

After 15 years working with the TAC, Dr Josias refuses to do any work without them: ‘When I talk about civil society, I am talking about the TAC; they know the people, they are able to reach the people, and they know what will work for the Khayelitsha community and what won’t.’

Since the inception of Thuthuzela, sexual abuse rates have dropped in Khayelitsha, and the rate of convictions has increased. Because of the groundwork done by the TAC, when people arrive at the centre, they know what to expect, they know what questions to ask, and they have an idea of the processes that will follow. This preparation allows the professionals at the centre to focus on providing quality services to the victims.

The TAC has always had an aggressive strategy when it comes to condom distribution. In one day, one volunteer can distribute about 9,000 condoms and Thuthuzela has tagged onto the TAC’s distribution tactics to market their services and the centre’s details to schools across Khayelitsha. ‘It’s easier to reach the kids if the information is on something like a ruler, it’s right there, it’s in their mind and they know where they can go,’ says Dr Josias.